On Thursday evening I met the Alliance party’s European candidate, Anna Lo MLA for an interview about her experiences as a politician in Northern Ireland, the upcoming European elections and her future.
I began by asking her about her experience in being elected in 2007 and the support she garnered from the Chinese community in South Belfast;
I was very grateful for the support and really felt very emotional as some of them (Chinese community) had never voted ever in their lives. Some elderly people in their 80s said they had never voted in their lives, whether in China, Hong Kong or in Northern Ireland. So, for them to have that experience of feeling that they have a stake in society that they can vote for someone that can mean something.
As she spoke about her experience I pondered why Alliance and not the SDLP?
I like Alliance cross community ethos; I like Alliance priorities, the priority of a shared future. I live here, coming from outside, I respect peoples culture absolutely and I want people to respect my culture and identity but I think as I just don’t have the baggage of having a husband or relative involved in the Troubles or being a victim or killed, there was no baggage.
I have to say I have certainly always been very sympathetic to the SDLP as well. I like the Social Democratic and Labour ethos but I am so glad I joined the Alliance party but I know if I had been in SDLP there would have been issues I could not agree or they could not tolerate, for example, abortion, I could not be gagged.
I then asked her why just two MLAs in the Assembly are vocally in favour of abortion rights for women
MLAs are out of step with public opinion, because MLAs are dominated by middle aged men, very conservative, holding fundamental religious views with religious dogma that is why I think we are being held back.
On will the Alliance party leave the Executive Lo said;
I think there will probably come a time when there will be a structure for opposition. There is no structure at the moment so, if you’re out, you’re out, you cannot even have a look in but at least we are inside doing our bit.
But, what about the flag protests does she think that wll hurt Alliance come May?
I don’t think so, I think that while we may have lost some people over the flags issue, we gain a lot more. We have gained new members, we have gained young people, we have gained women to say that ours is the common sense approach.
Has she ever felt intimidated by some of the tactics used against the Alliance party?
I don’t feel intimidated, I felt angry. I think it actually makes me more resolute to do more, to want to make a better place here…It makes me feel that we still have a lot of work to do and to be honest I feel that Alliance has our work cut out to do it, because I don’t see leadership from the other parties to resolve this.
What about her run for Europe?
I am very pro Europe personally and my party is very pro Europe. I see lots and lots of benefits particularly for Northern Ireland. I know David Cameron is talking that we’re net contributors and we’re not getting enough back but when you look at it 49% roughly I think exports go to the EU and when you think of a single market with 500 million consumers that is a massive potential for Northern Ireland.
But, why should voters give her a first preference?
We are on policies and how best we can have access to the EU and how best we can here in Northern Ireland in terms of exports to EU, in terms of the Environment, in terms of social and economic improvement for ourselves.
In my final questions I asked about the recent racist attacks against her over the comments on the Giro di Italia
It was a bit of a surprise I think how vile, how offensive the language was. I have been kicked on the street here by racists; there was a bullet last year sent to a newspaper with a picture of me. So, you would say that I am a fairly seasoned politician in the face of adversity but I must say I was taken aback by the velocity. It annoyed me, but I felt angry, when I see injustice I always feel angry and it’s that anger that fires me up to do something.
I asked Anna were her comments on removing murals not a bit naive?
No. I think it’s the opposite David, I think I am realistic rather than naive. How long are we going to leave the murals on the gable walls? How long are we going to leave those flags there? Half of them in tatters, worn, faded; they have been there now for a year. How long are we going to tolerate this? There is no leadership from the Unionist parties to ask people to bring those flags down?
I concluded by asking her would this European campaign be her final election campaign ever?
Well, it’s still undecided I have to be honest. I am not too sure if I will run again for the 2016 election.
I was interested to know why such a passionate politician like Anna felt this way;
I think it’s only fair to say that some of us we feel quite frustrated with the lack of progress in Stormont. So, sometimes you ask yourself, what are you doing? What outcome are you seeing? I have got good qualifications I have degrees and I can go on and do something else but I love the committee, if nothing else it’s the environment committee that I love.
Full audio available here;